Rocking the Boat
"I wanted to sign up with a firm that has my back...."
Kids don’t just build boats at Rocking the Boat, says Executive Director Adam Green. The boats also help build kids.
Sandwiched between a scrap metal yard and a wholesale produce terminal in the eastern edge of New York City’s South Bronx, Rocking the Boat has been empowering youth since 1998 through the romance and poetry of building wooden boats. Based in one of America’s poorest neighborhoods, the organization serves some 2,500 youth each year. They build traditional wooden boats from scratch, learning problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking and observational skills. They also learn maritime skills and help to restore the 23-mile-long Bronx River running past the property, a tributary of long-standing environmental degradation. Rocking the Boat also has a job skills program, coordinates social services for participants, and provides local residents with opportunities to row on the river and discover its opportunities.
“In many parts of the world, especially the island-based cultures where many of our students come from, wooden boats are still a primary form of transportation and are used by fishermen,” says Green. “The simple experience of being able to create something that’s beautiful and that works, that’s dynamic and active, that suggests exploration as well as function – this is very powerful and fundamental. It helps the kids to transcend the barriers and boundaries in their lives.”
Green started Rocking the Boat in 1998. As the organization has grown from a one-man enterprise to a $1.2 million nonprofit, he’s the first to admit that experiential education is his strong point – and that financial management is his weak one.
“We’ve been very successful at developing and running programs and raising money: both were somewhat intuitive for me. But financial management? Not so much.
“I was frustrated by not having a background in bookkeeping and accounting,” he adds. “I didn’t have the strategic information I needed to make decisions, and I couldn’t tell what good bookkeeping was until the audit, and by then it was too late.
“Until Your Part-Time Controller came along, financial management was the one piece of our operation that never really worked,” he says.
Green notes that few nonprofit executives are trained in accounting and bookkeeping, and few people with these skills gravitate into nonprofit work. Consequently, an organization can go for several years without realizing how bad its accounting systems are.
“We were having a difficult time finding people who were competent working with our bookkeeping system which is complicated by a great number of restricted grants,” he says. After several unsuccessful efforts to develop clear accounting using part-time, temporary and consulting personnel, Green was referred to YPTC by an instructor in a Columbia University nonprofit management development course.
A YPTC Associate came in and began cleaning things up. “We had eight or nine years of bad accounting,” says Green. “It was a complete mess.”
Today, YPTC is helping Rocking the Boat to get caught up and its systems in order. But what Green really likes about YPTC is that, unlike his earlier forays into financial management, with YPTC he’s not completely dependent upon one individual exclusively.
“Something that initially made me feel good about working with YPTC was that if I wasn’t feeling comfortable with any one individual, or if that person left, there would be someone else to take his place. I wanted to sign up with a firm that has my back. YPTC gives me a commitment to meet our needs if that individual is no longer there,” he says.
“For the first time in our organization’s history, I haven’t had to worry about the bookkeeping,” he says. “Just knowing there’s someone watching and managing what we’re supposed to be doing, and replacing a skill that I don’t have, is a huge relief.”
Green is pleased that Your Part-Time Controller has extended north. “Until YPTC, there was nothing like this anywhere in the New York City area.”